Watching a movie in the 1920s was a cheap and easy way to be transported into a world of glitz and glamour, a world of crime, or a world of magic and mystery. Some of these worlds included aspects of current events, like war, crime, and advances in technology; while others were completely fictional mysteries, romances, and comedies. Heartbreakers, heartthrobs, comedians and beautiful women dominated movie screens across the country in theaters, called Nickelodeons. Nickelodeons were very basic and small theaters which later transformed into opulent and monumental palaces. When sound was introduced into film by Warner Bros. Pictures, “talkies” took top rank over silent films. “Movies were an art form that had universal appeal. Their essence was entertainment; their success, financial and otherwise, was huge” (1920-30, 3/19/11). Films offered an escape from the troubles of everyday life in the 20s, and moviegoers across the country all shared a universal language: watching movies.
Although the film industry first began in New York, Hollywood caught the attention of producers because of its various locations for shooting films and ideal weather for year-round production. The climate and scenery were not the only reasons filmmakers moved to Hollywood. Thomas Edison, along with other individuals, owned patents over the process of filmmaking, and moving to Hollywood was used by producers as a way to avoid lawsuits (Digital History, 2/12/11).
In the beginning of The Roaring Twenties, about fifty million people went to the movies per week, amplifying to ninety million in 1929. These huge numbers are a result of the public’s obsession with the movies’ glamour, sophistication, and sex appeal. Watching movies motivated the viewers to earn more money to be able to see more movies. “According to one estimate, Americans spent 83 cents of every entertainment dollar going to the movies, and three-fourths of the population went to a movie theater every week” (Digital History, 2/12/11).
The time period of the 1920s was indeed a time of crime and violence. Crime and violence were not exactly destructive to the film industry. In fact, gang violence was a popular topic for movie production. “The gangster is the ‘no’ to that great American ‘yes’ which is stamped so large over our official culture” (Clarens, Hirsch, 1997).
Although The Roaring Twenties dealt with the passing of an American way of life---that of the twenties gangster---its tone was more expansive than fatalistic, more one of elegy than relief. The fiction that the film inserted between harsh facts and dates tended to make gangsterism as integral a part of the American experience as the World War. The breathless pace of Raoul Walsh’s directing style, cramming twenty years into ninety minutes, could well afford to retain only the most significant detail, and the picture became a distillation of a hundred other gangster movies, including Walsh’s own handful since Regeneration (Clarens,...